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Brunei's wealthy Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah introduces a ban on all public celebrations of Christmas in fears Muslims could 'unknowingly damage' their faith.Reuters

Oil-rich Brunei has officially banned all public celebrations of Christmas, announced its Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The ban was implemented after a number of people were reportedly spotted wearing clothes resembling Santa Claus at Christmas time.

Businesses that publicly displayed Christmas decorations were also asked to take them down and the ministry confirmed receiving their "full cooperation" on it.

The move follows Brunei's wealthy Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah's announcement last April on the introduction of a new Islamic penal code making it the first East Asian country to ever introduce Islamic criminal law.

Under the new law, Brunei's Muslim residents will face prosecution by Islamic courts for offences, including pregnancy outside marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers, and propagating other religions, reported Reuters.

Starting this April, offences like theft and alcohol consumption by Muslims, will be punishable by whipping and amputations, and death penalty by stoning is also to be introduced in the next phase for offences like adultery, sodomy and insulting the Quran or the Prophet Muhammed.

In response to queries on the new ban, a spokesman quoted a 27 December ministry statement on The Brunei Times that condemned any public act of celebrating non-Islamic rituals as they, "can be seen as propagations of religions other than Islam."

The statement further said, reported The Brunei Times: "Believers of other religions that live under the rule of an Islamic country - according to Islam - may practise their religion or celebrate their religious festivities among their community, with the condition that the celebrations are not disclosed or displayed publicly to Muslims.

"Muslims should be careful not to follow celebrations such as these that are not in any way related to Islam, for it is feared that this could lead to tasyabbuh (imitation) and could unknowingly damage the aqidah (faith) of Muslims."

The ban is raising fresh domestic and international criticism of the wealthy Brunei ruler.